In my journey of overcoming depression, I reached a point where I started having a hard time calling my depression a disease. Because it didn’t seem to work like all the other diseases I had been exposed to up to that point. It wasn’t like a cold that had you feeling miserable for a few days but that would inevitably go away. It wasn’t like an infection that you could cure by popping some pills for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t like a tumor that you could surgically remove.
But I think my understanding of disease was too narrow. Here’s how disease is actually defined:
“A disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavorable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment.”
So no, my depression wasn’t the kind of disease that you could cure by popping some pills or by going under the knife.
But it was definitely an incorrectly functioning system of the body. And it was definitely resulting from unfavorable environmental factors.
In hindsight – having recovered – I’m now convinced that my depression was my body’s response to an environment that wasn’t right for me.
My depression was a wake-up call. An alarm.
It was an alarm ringing from my brain and letting me know that something was off.
My environment day-in and day-out was off.
My LIFE was off.
My life and my body had veered off course.
I was not getting what I needed in order to function like a healthy human being does.
And because I wasn’t getting what I needed, life felt bad. So bad that I didn’t want to do it anymore. It wasn’t worth all the effort it took. I was putting forth SO much tiresome effort and getting nothing back.
My depression was a symptom – a side effect – of living a life that wasn’t meeting my needs.
By far the hardest part about overcoming depression for me was identifying these needs. As in, I have everything, so why would I hate being alive? What am I missing?
Until I figured out what I was missing, I was just shooting in the dark, trying different medication combos, going to therapy, reading books. Complaining a lot. But nothing would scratch the itch.
All of this changed the second I figured out what I was missing.
Once I was able to identify my needs, I was able to turn my attention to learning how to meet them. I could set goals. I had a destination to work toward. I was no longer stumbling around in the dark. The path was lit.
There were and continue to be obstacles on this path, but at least I know it’s the right path for me. I’m motivated to work through the obstacles, because every baby step on this path has brought me just a bit more peace, calm, and joy. A life that doesn’t feel bad all the time. A life I genuinely want to partake in. 🙂
But let’s turn back to you, dear reader.
Since you are reading this post, I’m going to assume that you have been struggling with depression for a while. While I don’t know what’s at the root of your depression, it’s possible that you are simply not getting what you need in order to function, just like I was.
So I want to make this post a sort of brainstorming session. I’m going to list a whole bunch of possible unmet needs to see if any of them strike a chord with you. Perhaps your depression is an alarm too. Perhaps some parts of your life are malfunctioning and what’s needed is for you to figure out which components need some tune-up.
A Starting Point For Overcoming Depression: What Are You Missing?
When you review the list below, please remember that these are ALL normal human needs. Some of us may require more of one than another and we may have different preferences for how to go about meeting these needs. But none of this is too much to ask for. You deserve to have it all. So when you review this list, please just focus on you without comparing to other people. And try to ignore the “shoulds” in your head.
- Stress control
- Physical security (ie. no threat of being physically harmed by others)
- Financial security
- Meaningful work related to your passion and purpose
- A healthy work environment
- Work-life balance
- Creative outlets
- Quiet time
- Calm environment
- A sense of control over your life
- Being seen, accepted, and appreciated for who you really are
- Love for your authentic self
- Meaningful connections
- People who share your interests
- Physical closeness
- Help when you need it
For me, it wasn’t just one of these things missing. Or even two or three. It was more like a cumulative effect of too many things missing for too great a degree for too long. Chronic sleep deprivation. Chronic out-of-control stress. Years without work-life balance. Years without passion and purpose. Years without enough calm and quiet.
Not understanding that these factors could be behind my depression, because isn’t this how everyone else lives too?
Not feeling like I had any control over my own life.
It was all just happening to me.
Until depression woke me up. Until life felt SO bad that I just couldn’t take it anymore. Until I recognized what I needed…
And Then What?
Then you pick one unmet need at a time, starting with the one that is screaming at you the loudest, and you ask yourself:
- What can I do to start meeting this need?
- What are the obstacles that stand in the way of meeting this need?
- What needs to happen in order to overcome each of these obstacles?
- Where can I turn to for help and guidance for meeting this particular need and for overcoming the obstacles?
And with each baby step of progress toward meeting your needs, you will feel a tiny bit better.
If it seems like too much, let me assure you that in order to recover from depression, I didn’t need to get everything from the list above in an optimal dose. As of today, I’m still working toward achieving some of them. I just needed to get enough of the ones I needed the most.
Enough to give me hope to keep going.
Enough to feel good more than I feel bad.
Enough to make life feel worth living again.